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How rate hikes could stamp (ahem) out yr favorite zine
April 20, 2007 9:07 AM   Subscribe

Last year, one of the last of the independent magazine distributors, Independent Press Association, went out of business (and took many smaller magazines along in its wake), and those who have survived, like Punk Planet, now depend on its subscription base for revenue. Now, a proposed postal hike, which favors magazines with larger circulations, could be the final nail in the coffin for some of the little guys.
posted by pfafflin (26 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Robert McChesney writes:

"The genius of the postal rate structure over the past 215 years was that it did not favor a particular viewpoint; it simply made it easier for smaller magazines to be launched and to survive. That is why the publications opposing the secretive Post Office rate hikes cross the political spectrum. This is not a left-wing issue or a right-wing issue, it is a democracy issue. And it is about having competitive media markets that benefit all Americans. This reform will have disastrous effects for all small and mid-sized publications, be they on politics, music, sports or gardening."

[Sniped from the No Depression mailing list]
posted by pfafflin at 9:09 AM on April 20, 2007


...or perhaps it could induce them to distribute online instead of on dead trees.

Magazines and newspapers overall are a dying breed. Physical distribution on paper is uncompetitive.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 9:12 AM on April 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


There are several advantages to magazines having a paper presence (portability being a major one, another being that not everyone has the internet), and this seems to be one of those times where it's blatantly obvious the government is backing the interests of the people with the most money.
posted by drezdn at 9:18 AM on April 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


I'd far rather publish on paper than publish online. There's something so thoroughly unreal to me about online "magazines" and publications.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:20 AM on April 20, 2007


Physical distribution on paper is uncompetitive.

Only when it's structured to be competitive for TIME and uncompetitive for Punk Planet.

Funny, I hear the Postal Rate Commission is made up of actual people who actually decide these things, not a "market".
posted by dhartung at 9:23 AM on April 20, 2007


There's something so thoroughly unreal to me about online "magazines" and publications.

True, paper publications have a sense of permanence completely lacking in online media. Not to say that the internet inherently 'forgets' anything (it does, I'm still looking for articles that were once available) but not having a physical thing you've paid for to do with what you will just isn't the same thing. It's like comparing e-books to hardbacks. Future generations may feel differently, but for those of us who grew up with paper, there's no substitute.
posted by IronLizard at 9:24 AM on April 20, 2007


I met a woman who does marketing for Publisher's Group West and she says most of the smaller mags have such devoted readerships that they will probably survive. It's start-ups, like always in the publishing world, that are facing big problems, especially with the further demise of independent bookshops.
posted by parmanparman at 9:47 AM on April 20, 2007


parmanparman, don't you mean "she does marketing for transition vendor?"
posted by drezdn at 10:01 AM on April 20, 2007


Drezdn,

No, PGW was bought shortly before IPA went downhill. It seems to be in the process of being spun-off again, or it will form the nexus for whatever IPA turns into once it comes out of administration.
posted by parmanparman at 10:07 AM on April 20, 2007


i think the government is indulging in another handout to big corporations ... as wrong as that is, steve's got a point - the concept of small mailed magazines and possibly large ones, too, is getting outdated
posted by pyramid termite at 10:46 AM on April 20, 2007


This is pretty sad. Back in the day (late 80s) I self-published a zine out of my basement for years. It had around 300 paying subscribers at its peak, and by far the biggest cost was postage. You can do almost anything to put it out on the cheap, but at the end of the day the postal service decided whether you could make it or not.
posted by verb at 10:53 AM on April 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


We pushed our schedule up to get in under the wire for this coming issue (it takes effect May 14th, so it all has to be printed, bound and sorted, etc, before then). It's hitting everyone--big and small--and it's not like bigger companies are getting away with anything--distribution costs to newstands, etc, have always been high (along with less savory placement costs), and now mailing to subscribers is going up too. Postage has never really been that cheap for stuff heavier than envelopes (except for that book rate), even when sorted by zip code and done in bulk, i don't think. And magazines are heavy, especially in Spring and Fall. Catalog publishers are going to be hurting even more.
posted by amberglow at 11:10 AM on April 20, 2007


I think we might see an end to 1000-page extravaganzas in April and September--see Vogue, etc--or they'll be smaller for the subscriber versions.
posted by amberglow at 11:15 AM on April 20, 2007


parmanparman, this is what I was referring to. The Publishers Group West I'm thinking of was sold to Perseus after their parent company went bankrupt in December. The bankrupt company (AMS) didn't sell the name to Perseus though.

I'm curious though how PGW and IPA are connected though, so far as I knew, PGW only distributed books... Is there a connection that I'm missing, or are they different companies?
posted by drezdn at 11:16 AM on April 20, 2007


(i have a friend who used to work for a distributor--he always said it was a real racket)
posted by amberglow at 11:17 AM on April 20, 2007


I'd bet that the consumers would prefer they charge more for bulk mail and less for media.

I'd just as soon get fewer pizza coupons and cheaper Playboys
posted by Megafly at 11:57 AM on April 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


Only when it's structured to be competitive for TIME and uncompetitive for Punk Planet.

Time/Life just shut Life Magazine down again, probably for good.

Over the last twenty years, the big news weeklies have all had declining circulation, in a period where the population of the US has grown substantially.

Moreover, a fair amount of their circulation is phony. It's copies given away just to keep the numbers up so advertising rates won't sag. (Some advertisers have started realizing that they've been lied to.)
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 12:23 PM on April 20, 2007


Moreover, a fair amount of their circulation is phony. It's copies given away just to keep the numbers up so advertising rates won't sag. (Some advertisers have started realizing that they've been lied to.)

Advertisers have known about this for a long time, and many of them are pretty okay with it. That's a big reason why free publications can survive; they sacrifice subscription/newsstand revenue for greatly simplified circulation while still bringing in advertisers. For advertisers more interested in reaching the largest number of eyeballs than targeting the right sets of eyeballs, free magazines work. And for those advertisers interested in hitting specific markets, well, that's what controlled circ is for.

All that said, none of the circulation models work particularly well without advertising, which is still a major question mark when you go online. Magazines that start from the ground up as online ventures can do well, but asking print magazines to transition to the web in order to save on postage costs—especially smaller ones that have to deal with very few technological resources and practically no know-how in the first place—is asking quite a lot. It's not as simple as "oh, well maybe now they'll stop killing trees and go on the web." Far more likely they'll collapse and die, and maybe in a few years a new group of people will pick up the pieces and start their own magazine in the same genre. Or not.
posted by chrominance at 2:08 PM on April 20, 2007


It's called business. Either you have customers willing to pay for your product above the cost of producing it, or you don't. Market conditions are always changing and always challenging. Apply to the NEA for a grant if it's really art.
posted by spitbull at 3:03 PM on April 20, 2007


Advertisers have known about this for a long time, and many of them are pretty okay with it.

That's a bit of an overstatement. They're aware, though there's been discussion about the relative value and respect a non-paying reader gives the paper versus someone who made a financial commitment. "Part of the motivation is that advertisers have raised questions about how effective sponsored papers are at reaching consumers, said John Morton, a newspaper consultant based in Silver Spring, Md." That's not the first time I read that - I recall seeing discussion about disclosure of paid/subsidized numbers several years ago - but it's the first article I could google up.
posted by phearlez at 3:14 PM on April 20, 2007


Meanwhile, for every nerd who loves the game, Wizards of the Coast is taking back Dragon magazine and Dungeon magazine from the people who have published it for five years, to make it a web-only thing.

The people at Paizo Publishing, which was formed originally to publish them, apparently are trying to keep a happy face.

(Full disclosure: I just re-upped and have 11 issues left on my sub, dammit.)
posted by mephron at 4:12 PM on April 20, 2007


three words

print on demand
posted by humannaire at 9:26 PM on April 20, 2007


three words

print on demand


one word:

sucks
posted by D.C. at 9:34 PM on April 20, 2007


A longtime zine publisher here (it's my screen name), with a mag currently on indefinite hiatus.

I'm convinced the only way most indie print mags will survive is by printing in multiple locations, and distributing in a hands-on fashion. It could even be a co-op situation: zines A (in Cleveland), B (in LA) and C (in NY) agree to produce new issues on June 1, job the print jobs to get a decent price, print one third of each of their copies in each community (or the next state over, to avoid sales tax), and then share local distribution duties for all titles.

It could work, if you could find two or more other zine publishers who weren't flakes, and you weren't one yourself.

Distributors are (almost) all thieves. Indie record companies aren't buying ads. Stores won't take consignment. Might as well make the mags free, and distribute them next to the city guides. The only reasonable alternative is publishing online (POD or not). It's simply harder to make a physical artifact now than it was before, and when compared to the immediate satisfaction and ability to reach readers that the web provides... well... you have to be a pretty big print geek to keep the presses rolling (yay Roctober, Ugly Things, Razorcake, et al.)!
posted by Scram at 10:52 PM on April 20, 2007


Free distribution is really the way to go--if you can get enough ads to support the costs.

Even in big magazines, it's the specialized and targeted ones that do better now, as opposed to the 76 Sisters and other general magazines.
posted by amberglow at 11:10 AM on April 22, 2007


What's going to be interesting is whether kids (girls, almost entirely) will still be socialized for magazine reading and buying. For decades and decades, there has been a sort of funnel--from teen (17, YM, and the newer ones that have all mostly folded or gone online, etc) and music/pinup/pop magazines (Tiger Beat, 16, etc) to adult magazines, conditioning women to be magazine readers.

Maybe that Nick magazine and the Disney ones will continue it?
posted by amberglow at 11:14 AM on April 22, 2007


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